Colour Me

[A] documentary about race and its implications shoots a 2002 Ryerson journalism graduate to the forefront of the film industry in Canada.

When Sherien Barsoum, creator of Colour Me, was 16, her family moved to the island of Cyprus in Europe. She then had the opportunity to the travel around the world, where she discovered her love for journalism. But after she graduated, Barsoum also began to work as a youth worker.

“When you’re doing hard news, you meet somebody, grab a few clips, and then leave,” said Barsoum. “You don’t really get to know them. You don’t really get to uncover them.”

Colour Me narrates the story of Anthony McLean, a youth worker and one of Barsoum’s colleagues, as he mentors six teenagers in Brampton, Ont.

According to Barsoum, McLean was the inspiration for the film. As a mixed-race child growing up in a predominantly white neighbourhood, McLean grew alienated from and confused by his skin colour and culture.

“For most of his life, Anthony didn’t have very much contact with people from his own background,” Barsoum said. “His only exposure to it was what he saw on television.”

Barsoum says that while she was a youth worker, she witnessed kids struggling with issues of race and so she wanted to show the world what racism was doing to people – what it had done to McLean.

“The concept for the film was [McLean’s] idea,” said Barsoum. “It was the issue that he had dealt with when he was a young boy and as an adult was hoping that someone would speak to young people like that young person he was.”

But the problems began after the idea was conceived. Colour Me was filmed with a quality film team because, as Barsoum explained, it was her first movie and she wanted it to be high value production. But the budget was too small.

Barsoum struggled to find sponsors and tried to lower her costs. In the end, the budget was expanded.

But not all was disappointment. Barsoum’s biggest reward was the same that inspired her: McLean. Throughout the filming of Colour Me, Barsoum says she watched McLean grow as a person and deal with his life-long insecurities.

“His life story inspired me to challenge how I look at other people,” she explained. “So the biggest reward this documentary brought me was watching Anthony mentor these kids and see how his life impacted theirs.”

The film was set in Brampton because it is one of the fastest growing cities in Ontario with one of the largest populations of immigrants.

By the end of the filming, Barsoum says it “was no longer about identity and race but it was about David, and Justine, and Summer. And how when the light went on for them, their lives changed.”

A natural helper, Barsoum wants her documentary to inspire other people to think about the way they talk about and see colour.

“The best advice that I can offer is to remember that identity and race are complex,” she said. “Cliché statements, catchphrases or stereotypes rob you as the person who is making this assumption of getting to know somebody and they rob that person of being the best they can be.”

Colour Me has received several positive reviews from different news outlets, such as the Atlantic Film Festival, The Coast, etc. The film will be screening at several locations throughout the month of February. You can visit the website for more information.